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Why is listening more important than talking in social media?

By Dave Stevens

I attended’s “Social media in B2B Communications:  The power of integration” conference on Wednesday and presented a paper on why listening is more important than talking in social media.  This is a summary of what I presented…

There are some honourable exceptions, but the state of social media in B2B communications right now can be summarised in the phrase “we talk lots”.  B2B organisations send as much marketing stuff out from the corporate centre as we can.

There are three reasons why that is the case:-

(1)  ROI Marketing.  “Return on Marketing Investment” was originated as a concept with the work of Kotler and Lilien in the 1990s and it caught on.  By the early 21st century B2B marketers were finding themselves under more and more pressure to demonstrate a return in their marketing.  This is difficult in the world of social media and so we have tended towards measuring outputs rather than outcomes because that is easier.  Marketers are helped here with the dashboards on different social media sites and by aggregation tools such as Klout.  And so marketers focus on numbers of messages, likes, and follows.  Small industries spring up offering opportunities to buy followers and the press gets hot under the collar about scandals such as fake followers.  And because marketers can measure these outputs effectively, we focus our efforts on trying to secure more of them.  And sending out lots of stuff is a great way of building up such numbers.

(2) Micro-marketing and Personalisation.  This is a trend that took off in the 1990s too:  encouraging the operation of marketing at an individual one-to-one level.  Again in social media this is difficult to achieve.  And so marketers have looked to tools like Hootsuite that enable mass marketing in  a slightly customised way.  Essentially though such tools are broadcast machines.

(3) Centralisation.  Social media is new.  And B2B organisations tend to run new things from the centre to see how they work and to control them.  This happened with the internet almost twenty years ago, and it happens today with social media.  And such centralisation under the management of a few makes interaction on a mass scale between organisations and audience difficult.  And so marketers broadcast instead.

So for these very understandable reasons, we talk lots in social media.  But B2B organisations should talk less and “listen more”.

There are three reasons why:-

(A) People use social media to interact.  In my experience , interaction is the value of social media.  Social media provides the opportunity to share experiences and knowledge and thinking with others of like mind wherever they are.  That means following people not organisations because people talk to people not entities and that means reflecting on things going on in other channels than just social media.  My personal usage of social media reflects this.  I don’t follow back many companies because I don’t want a relationship with a thing.  I’m having lots of interesting discussions over social media – about the value of infographics, whether B2B marketing should get more emotion, whether there is any difference between B2B and B2C marketing…  I carry on discussions with people I’ve met at events or about issues raised on television.  And so as CMO of a B2B organisation, I have encouraged individuals – people – in the business of my firm to use social media, aided by the professionals in my team and social media tools that guide who to follow on which topics.  I have used LinkedIn groups to follow-up round-table events allowing attendees to continue the conversations that they were having off-line.

(B)  Your organisation will take more note of social media if you listen.  In a recent CIM survey of 2000 marketers (48% of them B2B, most of them based in the UK and Western Europe), 26% of them said that the biggest barrier to progress in social media was management understanding.  This was the biggest barrier cited.  Management don’t get social.  And that shouldn’t be a surprise.  Social media hasn’t been around for very long and it uses meaningless terms like “follows” and “likes” to present its achievements.  However, if you use social media to listen you can present your findings on a topic and in a way that senior management will understand.  At my firm, we used social media as evidence as to how we should recalibrate our brand by combining use of a social media analysis tool with some consultant analysis.  We compared what people were saying about our brand with what they were saying about our competitors and because it was research without buzzwords on a topic that senior management were already interested in, management listened.  This is the kind of listening we should be doing on social media.  And if we do it well on a topic that management consider to be important already, they will listen.

(C)  Your customers want you to listen.  A February 2012 survey for Yomego showed that 62% of consumers used social media for customer service issues.  88% said they were less likely to buy from a brand if questions asked on social media went unanswered.  Customers expect your organisation to be listening.  At our firm, we listen and flag up social media conversations to management so that they can decide how best to respond to them.

So I think B2B organisations need to listen using social media:  keep it personal, interact, integrate, research usefully, and always consider responding.

What do you think?

Categories: b2b marketing marketing social media marketing Uncategorized

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Dave is an experienced global B2B Chief Marketing Officer / Marketing Director with an established reputation for delivering commercial results in start-up, mid-tier, and blue-chip businesses across technology, and business services and professional services sectors.

Dave has worked for major brands such as Telefonica O2, EY, and Barclays and held posts from Chief Marketing Officer to Director of Online, has run his own business, and managed a P&L for a major corporate. He is chair and co-founder of the Business Marketing Club ( - a network of B2B marketers. In 2019, he was named one of the top 100 B2B European marketing leaders ( He is a graduate of Cambridge University, a Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Chartered Marketer and holds a MBA with Imperial College, London. Dave is a keen cyclist and adventure traveller, is married, and lives in Buckinghamshire. You can read his blogs at

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